I wanted very much to learn to draw, for a reason that I kept to myself: I wanted to convey an emotion I have about the beauty of the world. It’s difficult to describe because it’s an emotion. It’s analogous to the feeling one has in religion that has to do with a god that controls everything in the universe: there’s a generality aspect that you feel when you think about how things that appear so different and behave so differently are all run ‘behind the scenes’ by the same organization, the same physical laws. It’s an appreciation of the mathematical beauty of nature, of how she works inside; a realization that the phenomena we see result from the complexity of the inner workings between atoms; a feeling of how dramatic and wonderful it is. It’s a feeling of awe — of scientific awe — which I felt could be communicated through a drawing to someone who had also had that emotion. I could remind him, for a moment, of this feeling about the glories of the universe.
My friend Dudley Wright suggested ‘Au Fait,’ which means ‘It is done’ in French. I spelled it O-f-e-y, which turned out to be a name the blacks used for ‘whitey.’ But after all, I was whitey, so it was all right.
I noticed that the teacher didn’t tell people much (the only thing he told me was my picture was too small on the page). Instead, he tried to inspire us to experiment with new approaches. I thought of how we teach physics: We have so many techniques—so many mathematical methods—that we never stop telling the students how to do things. On the other hand, the drawing teacher is afraid to tell you anything. If your lines are very heavy, the teacher can’t say, “Your lines are too heavy.” because some artist has figured out a way of making great pictures using heavy lines. The teacher doesn’t want to push you in some particular direction. So the drawing teacher has this problem of communicating how to draw by osmosis and not by instruction, while the physics teacher has the problem of always teaching techniques, rather than the spirit, of how to go about solving physical problems.
“This is a book about how it happened. In particular how we went from there being nothing at all to there being something, and then how a little of that something turned into us, and also what happened in between and since.” ~Bill Bryson
The stories behind the works selected, these natural histories, not only tell the story of the history of science and art over the last five hundred years, but also of the advances and revelations of science and technology during the age of print. While still tools for science, these works endure as small monuments to the achievements and struggles involved in the study of natural science over the centuries.
The most striking element of Haeckel’s illustrations inKunstformen der Natur is the startling arrangement of the life forms depicted — especially the microscopic subjects. it appears almost as if some unseen magnetic force had aligned them and arranged each in perfect position for viewing. This maximized the real estate on the paper and allowed the greatest number of related organisms to be studied and admired. While the result was artistic, the intention was educational and scientific. For Haeckel, illustrating and sharing his observations was a way to convey knowledge and information about the natural world. While some scientists observed and described connections between similar forms and functions to show relatedness between animals, Haeckel’s vision and documentary skills went a step further, illustrating similar creatures together, so that anyone — scientists or not — could clearly see their relatedness. As a fervent believer in Darwinian evolutionary theory, he merely pointed out to his viewers the logic of the theory by providing them with a view by which they could see the obvious connections for themselves.